Have you found that as soon as you put the word ‘dyslexia’ near a product or service the cost shoots up? It doesn’t have to be that way but the trade- off for you is that you will need to invest time; both for learning more about dyslexia and to put together a programme of your own for your child. Here are 7 ways that you can help your child improve their reading skills for free.
1. Ensure your child knows the sounds that the individual letters of the alphabet make.
This is the most important step so don't miss it out. You can download the alphabet or just write it out and ask your child to give you the sounds rather than the names of the letters ( the names are those you say when reciting the alphabet). Any that they don't know quickly and with certainty, repeat on a daily basis for a couple of minutes until your child is confident with the sounds that those letters make.
If you are unsure what these sounds are then take a look at this video.
2. Build up their knowledge of how sounds and letters go together to make words.
This is the area that most dyslexia programmes concentrate on and is the more complex area. However, you can do this yourself for free.
You don't need any special equipment, just a book that your child wants to read. If they are a beginner reader, the Song Birds series by Julia Donaldson are a good place to start ( or any other phonic readers that your local library stocks). These books will help you concentrate on a limited number of word patterns ( for example the 'ai' or 'ay' pattern) and enable you to build up your child's knowledge of them through reading.
The key factor to keep in mind is that your child may need to repeat and look back at these word patterns many times before they will remember them ( this is due to a weak working memory which you can read more about here). You can make a note of the patterns you are working on and do different activities such as drawing a mind map with words of the same pattern around it;making up sentences using those words and writing them down;drawing pictures to go with the words to name a few.
In my free Facebook group I post up a video every week which looks at a different word pattern each week which will also help you build up this knowledge with your child.
3. Download high frequency words and check your child can read these.
These are words which are the most common so if your child learns these they will be able to read the words which occur the most frequently in their books.
A lot of these words have to be learnt as a 'whole' because they can't be split down into their sounds very easily such as 'could' and 'the'. This is where you can make up flash cards with these words on them and go through these on a regular basis with your child. Simply say the word and ask your child to repeat. After a few days, just show the word to your child and see if they can tell you what it says.
You can also download high frequency phrases which Dr Edward Fry has put together. I don't use these because I prefer to get my students reading interesting stories and non fiction. I think that reading words and phrases out of context is extremely boring - but that is just my opinion!
You can download high frequency words at http://www.highfrequencywords.org.
4. Make sure your child can tell you the start, middle and end sounds in words.
Dyslexia is a problem with language and a lot of people overlook the fact that to read words and for them to make sense you have to be able to identify when one word ends and another starts. To know this, you have to be able to say what the start sound is of a word and the end sound. In simple words, your child must also be able to identify the middle sounds too.
This is simple and free for you to check with your child. Look around your room and ask for the start and end sounds of objects in that room. For some of the simpler words, ask for the middle sound. It is also worth checking that your child can make rhyming words as this shows whether they are aware of sounds at the end of words.
5.Learn to chunk words down into syllables.
This is an important reading ( and spelling) skill. When your child struggles to read a longer word, get your child to look at the first syllable by using your finger to cover the rest of the world. Uncover the word , one syllable at a time.
If you are unsure what a syllable is, then Reading Rockets has a good section on this. It is better to split the words properly into syllables because this can affect the way you say the word ( particularly with open syllables).
6.Visit your local library and borrow books - including audio books.
Most people know you can join your local library and take out books for a short period of time, but did you know that you can download e-books and audio books too for free? This can be beneficial for your child as it will help them read more and increase their vocabulary whilst doing so. Audio books can be a valuable part of your tool box when trying to improve your child's reading skills.
7. Read together
Free and enjoyable! There are a couple of different strategies you can use to help your struggling reader. You could try paired reading which is basically where you are both reading out loud at the same time. You have to try and modify your reading pace to match your child but the benefits are that your child experiences fluent reading which helps with their understanding of what is being read and why reading can be enjoyable. This method was researched by Professor Topping, and you can read more about how to do it here. I get mixed reactions to this strategy from my students, so see how you get on.
Another method used by teachers is called pause,prompt and praise. Basically, you are listening to your child reading and when they are stuck on a word, you let your child try and work it out for a short time, prompt them with some ideas to help them make sense of the word ( here I would help them with the letter sounds) and then praise them ( for getting the word right or trying really hard). Just be careful with older children that this doesn't end up being patronising!
A more popular ( if informal) method is for you to read a page and your child to read a page. The result is that the book is read faster and your child gets to enjoy the story as well as a good 'flow' to the reading.
If you feel that all of these ideas are overwhelming and you want some free help to get you started, you can download my reading checklist here which covers numbers 1 and 2 above and will tell you why your child is struggling with reading and where to go from there.
You can also join my free Facebook group here, where strategies and ideas are discussed among parents with similar issues, but with a specialist dyslexia tutor there as well to ensure you don't get conflicting or simply wrong advice.
Good luck on your journey and I hope that this post has reassured you that you can improve your child's reading for free.